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With all of the foolishness surrounding Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton and their gun-toting locker room fiasco, it seems like the NBA is attempting to portray the players in a more positive light:

New Orleans Hornets center Emeka Okafor, whose parents both hail from Nigeria, is one of the league’s most accomplished fans of literature. He has finished six books this season, including “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy, “Interpreter of Maladies” by Jhumpa Lahiri and Junot Diaz’s “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.” He says the reading binge is meant to make up for all the time he spent last year watching DVDs. “I had to get my book game back up,” he says.

Years ago, before the boom in personal electronics, books were standard equipment in the NBA. Some of the league’s most famous bookworms include UCLA alum Kareem Abdul-Jabbar recalls plowing through the complete Sherlock Holmes collection on his first NBA road trip. He says he once received a big box of paperbacks in the locker room from the late crime writer Robert B. Parker, who had gotten wind that Mr. Abdul-Jabbar was a fan of his “Spenser” detective series.

Whether it was the rise of personal electronics or the growing number of players who came to the NBA straight out of high school, the ranks of readers seem to have dwindled in the 1990s. By the time Mr. Abdul-Jabbar started as an assistant coach with the Lakers in 2005, he says, most of the league’s players had traded their books for “two phones and an Xbox.”

Last year, the NBA players’ union started circulating a quarterly reading list—this winter’s suggestions include Donald Trump’s “The Art of the Deal” and a book called “Talent is Overrated.” The Bucks gave players Kindles for Christmas last year, while for years Mr. Jackson of the Lakers has doled out carefully selected books to his players before their longest road trip, which range from works by Friedrich Nietzsche to “2666” by Chilean writer Roberto Bolano.

Nearly all of the Phoenix Suns players read on road trips these days (the Bible counts, says Suns center Channing Frye). Miami’s Dwyane Wade isn’t afraid to admit that one of his favorite books was Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice,” which he first read as a student at Marquette.

Not everyone is clamoring to join the reading club. The Lakers say the majority of players don’t read the books Mr. Jackson gives them. A spokesman for the Portland Trail Blazers says the handful of players on the team who cozy up with novels didn’t feel comfortable revealing themselves.

Good for those of them who do read. Hopefully this will rub off on all of the wanna be thug dumba*ses as well.




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